Two hundred and forty dollars. It’s a lot of money.
With it, I could pay my hydro bill for four months. I could finally fix my phone’s broken screen. I could buy a coveted metro pass, two months in a row.
My God. With $240 extra, I could make myself feel like a real star. But as my four years at Ryerson University come to a close, those extra dollars are long gone for me, as well as the rest of the student body. Each student at Ryerson pays a mandatory $60 annual fee to the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). That’s $240 over four years that students must give to the RSU to do, erm, well, not that much.
I came to Ryerson in 2010. During my first weeks here, I observed RSU executives yelling into megaphones in front of the Student Campus Centre (SCC). Even then, the SCC had two-storey posters down the front of the building to promote equity groups. At a school where I knew no one, the RSU executives were familiar faces who seemed to care about improving campus life. They succeeded in closing Gould Street for six months that year, which later became a permanent change in 2012.
The same year, the RSU and other Greater Toronto Area student unions helped to implement lower TTC fares for students. Powerful, I thought. What more would they accomplish while I achieve my degree? Four years later, different RSU executives continue to yell into their megaphones, but I am still waiting to see more changes. The RSU hasn’t really done anything more to significantly improve student life at Ryerson since I’ve been here.
The RSU tends to focus on working for large-scale campaigns rather than causes that are easier to put into action and that will more quickly affect students at Ryerson.
The RSU’s Drop Fees campaign to stop the rise of tuition costs is a valid one. Ontario students pay the most money for post-secondary education in the country.
That’s unfair. But the energy the RSU puts into this campaign does not effect change and the way they go about protesting it is not effective.
Last October, RSU executives led a protest for the campaign by marching through through campus. Just 15 students joined them. The Halloween-themed “Rally For The Death of Affordable Education” ended on the 13th floor of Jorgenson Hall, where Ryerson president Sheldon Levy greeted the crowd. They handed him a funeral wreath, keeping with the rally theme, and then took a smiley photo with him.
I’m not sure if handing Levy a wreath is going to do too much to drop tuition fees. If it seemed like the RSU were taking the campaign more seriously, maybe we as students would be able to take it more seriously.
As if the RSU doesn’t have enough to do on our own campus, last month some executive members were caught campaigning at the University of Toronto for its student union elections.
RSU president Melissa Palermo and vice-president equity (and in-coming president) Rajean Hoilett were spotted on the campus in the middle of March. Palermo defended herself saying she was on vacation time. Hoilett refused to comment.
A member of the student press there said Hoilett told him he was a U of T student. As an outgoing student, that isn’t behaviour the soon-to-be RSU president should be exhibiting.
The RSU’s recent behaviour and its lack of results make me wish I had attended a university where the student union actually made a real impact on campus.
I can only hope the $240 I’ve paid to the union goes towards improving student life for future students, because I can’t say it’s helped me at all.
Thanks for nothing.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.